Poem-A-Day: Elizabeth Gross

I love social consciousness in poetry. Even better when satire is involved.

Remember back in December when seven important words were banned from appearing in CDC documents related to their budget?

Talk about insidious and damaging and hateful. Of all the things the current administration has done which are repulsive, this floats near the top of the list. It doesn’t even really matter how the words were banned or for what purposes. Anyone paying attention and thinking with a critical/analytical mind knows what’s going on here, and it has a lot to do with “framing the debate” (also known as “spin” or “controlling perception” or “manipulating the listener”) and with chipping away at civil liberties and human rights.

In response, enter the poet Elizabeth Gross and the sestina form.

If you’re unfamiliar with the sestina, it’s an old French form which operates on the spiral rotation of six words to create a thirty-nine-line poem. They are marvelous and fun writing puzzles. See if you can identify the key words and the rotating form in this poem by Elizabeth Gross, which first appeared in the CDC Poetry Project, edited by Sarah Freligh and Amy Lemmon.

***

Science-based ethical consciousness seeks same

Hellooo, potential soul-mates! A little about me: ever since I was a fetus
I’ve felt most comfortable underwater—we all start out transgender
mer-folk after all, with gills and tails—suddenly vulnerable
to everyone and everything when we hit the air. Entitlement
begins here, begins early, with a slap. Yet, for some, an evidence-based
approach eventually reveals that others exist, and there is a diversity

of consciousness to color in the lines drawn by our diversity
of physical bodies. I start with my own example as a fetus
but really I’m looking for someone older, awake to the evidence-based
world around them—I mean, the end of the world. A woman, transgender
or non-binary individual because I can’t even with the entitlement
of straight cisgender men. How are they still talking? How invulnerable

to shame? Are they actually convinced that they’re the vulnerable
ones in this society? Digging in their heels so the new “diversity
hire” can’t put on the same bad suits? Whining entitlements
are un-American! Hate-watching RuPaul’s Drag race from a fetal
position, tweeting rage, kept up at night by fantasies of transgender
people using the same bathrooms as their wives. An evidence-based

analysis reveals zero threat to cis straight men, but evidence-based
studies do show our culture slowly changing as the vulnerable
claim more space, more time (shout out to you activist honeys!) Transgender
women of color are still targets of violence but we wear DIVERSITY
IS STRENGTH on tee shirts sometimes, right? Now it’s me in the fetal
position—the world is too much/not enough right now—aren’t we entitled

to feel a little bit okay sometimes? No? Not ever? Am I even entitled
to a we here, in this divided moment? I want an evidence-based
takedown of the language of authority. I want a language-less fetus
culturally speaking, a fresh start. Let’s pretend we’re all vulnerable
here (because we actually are) and also recognize a diversity
of strengths as strength, remake ourselves in the image of a new transgender

god. To recap: I want to find a girlfriend (broadly defined). Transgender
non-binary genderqueer femme tomboy yay! (I know, I know, my entitlement
is showing.) My references will attest to my loyalty and candor. I offer a
.      diversity
of first date suggestions, crowdsourced and vetted—truly an evidence-based
approach to dating. Let’s trade anxiety dreams without touching, get vulnerable
and cry for a while, on the floor, separately, with NPR on, in the fetal

position. Too much? I’ll call you fetus if you call me science. We’re all entitled
to evidence-based pet names that reflect our true diversity—
transgender, cisgender, anygender the heart can hold, make vulnerable again.

***

Elizabeth Gross is a poet/translator/teacher/karaoke enthusiast from New Orleans. She completed her MFA in poetry at Hunter College of the City University of New York and still inhabits New York occasionally in her stress dreams. She co-translated and produced a new adaptation of Euripides’ Bakkhai at the Marigny Opera House in 2015. Her chapbook Dear Escape Artist, a collaboration with artist Sara White, came out from Antenna in 2016. More poems have recently appeared in Okey-PankyTENDERLOINFairy Tale Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. You can find more about her and her work at grosselectricworks.com.

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Monday Earworm: Ani diFranco (I know, she’s one of my favorites…)

Tomorrow is Election Day. It’s not a presidential election year or even a Congressional mid-term, and so not a lot of people are likely to show up. When I early-voted last week (halfway through the early voting cycle), I was one of only 1.9% of the eligible voters in my district who had done so.

I cannot stress enough the importance of showing up and participating. Especially if you want change. Please.

If you know me, you know Ani diFranco is one of my very favorite artists, so you’ll get to see a fair bit of her on this blog when I feature music and poetry. This one is not only beautiful, it’s important.

Witchy Weekend: What Is A Witch, Anyway?

A practicer of magical arts.

Someone who buys into that really old time religion. A pagan.

Someone who knows her own damn mind.

A politically inconvenient troublemaker.

A heretic.

A caricature, a cautionary tale, a mockery.

Someone trying to make at least one little corner of the world a better place.

Someone who meditates.

Someone whose compass has five points.

Someone who is using the resources she has at hand to solve the problems that sometimes feel too big, but she is trying to do it anyway.

Someone who knows that what goes around, comes around, threefold.

Someone who wears a pointy hat, someone who has an intelligent cat, someone who soars to the moon and back.

 

 

Monday Earworm: Rush

I love this song. I think I might actually like the studio version better than this live one, but this live one is still pretty great.

My relationship with Rush is tangential and hardly worth fangirl status. Several of my friends in college loved them, and so I started listening to them as well, and while I’m hardly well versed in their entire discography, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a song of theirs I didn’t like. Concept albums really appeal to me as well, so there’s that.

This song always reminds me of my students, especially my seniors, whose potential stretches out before them like an ocean. It also, oddly, reminds me of Justin Trudeau. Not really sure why. Maybe because he’s making a very good case for being the leader of the free world now that the U.S. has clearly relinquished that position? (And sorry, Angela Merkel, you’re otherwise kind of awesome, but no one who doesn’t support same-sex marriage can be the leader of the free world in the 21st Century, so.)

Okay, political rant over. Please to enjoy.

 

Caption Contest

I’m mired in grading finals right now, but I’ll get back to posting on this blog next month, when I’m in the swing of summer.

For now, have a photo and a caption contest. Your prize will be my undying admiration for your participation. If you’d also like to win one of my books or a handmade poetry art card, let me know.

I found this photo by accident. The best attribution I can give at the moment is that it was on Gary He’s Twitter feed. But it’s an amazing photo and just begs to be captioned, so please, have at it.

 

Poem-A-Day: Ani diFranco (again)

Here’s another poem-set-to-music by Ani diFranco. This one is from a live performance, possibly the same version as on her live double album Living In Clip (which is one of those take-with-me-if-I’m-stranded-on-a-deserted-island albums, by the way, so definitely check it out if you’re interested in hearing more of her music).

In “Not So Soft,” Ani takes on inequity.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

It should come as zero surprise to anyone that I like political and/or satirical poems. I suspect we’re in for a lot more of that in the near-term. But the ones in this series won’t always be. This one needs to get out there, though.

***

CONSIDERING THE ALTERNATIVE 

He thought he saw a castle wall, built on bad advice.
The president informed him it would be a paradise,
where avocados could be bought for just three times the price.

He thought he saw an oil spill contaminate a fjord.
The president declared it was a co-pay that insured
a preexisting malady that cannot now be cured. 

He thought he saw a gathering that nobody attended.
The president informed him that the party never ended.
I’d best not say a word, he thought, lest any be offended. 

He thought he saw the televised results of an election.
The president declared that there had been an insurrection
whose perpetual exposure somehow escaped detection. 

He thought he saw the opposition take it up a notch.
The president pretended he would grab it in the crotch.
He couldn’t look away, but he could barely stand to watch.

***
Alexander organized the weekly readings at Helios (now Avant Garden) from 1999 to 2003. He was on the board of Mutabilis Press from 2010-2015, & has been active in Public Poetry since 2011. His book Retrograde came out in 2013. He is now running POETRY FIX, a bi-monthly reading on Tuesday nights at FIX Coffeebar.